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Ottavio Leoni (c. 1578-1630)

Portraits of contemporary artists, 1625 1625

RCIN 670000

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  • A series of small portrait engravings of artists in the Accademia di San Luca, Rome

    Ottavio Leoni was best known as a portrait draughtsman, producing many hundreds of finely drawn chalk portraits of all levels of Roman society over three decades. In 1614 he was elected Principal of the painters’ Accademia di San Luca; he also practised as an engraver, publishing two sequences of small portrait engravings – of men of letters, framed in ovals, and here of his fellow artists in the Accademia, framed in dodecagons, together with a portrait of his father, the Paduan medallist and maker of wax reliefs Ludovico Leoni, who had died in 1612. Ottavio Leoni’s self-portrait is not explicitly identified as such, although that he was the subject as well as the engraver of that engraving is confirmed by his self-portrait drawings of 1624 in the British Museum and at Karlsruhe.

    These impressions come from an album of artists’ portraits assembled in the 1630s by the Roman collector Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588–1657). Ten albums of portrait prints were acquired by George III in 1762 as part of Cassiano’s ‘Paper Museum’, arranged by the occupation of the sitter – popes and cardinals, kings of France, military commanders and so on. The albums were broken up in the nineteenth century and many of the prints subsequently sold, but an inventory of c.1810 allows the contents of each to be reconstructed in detail. The volume entitled Illustrious Painters &c does indeed begin with (Italian) painters – Raphael, Michelangelo, Andrea del Sarto and so on, in chronological order, ending with Leoni’s series of contemporary artists and a group of four female painters. Then follow sequences of sculptors, architects, engravers and antiquarian scholars; then non-Italian artists (painters followed by engravers); and finally, musicians. Almost every portrait in Cassiano’s album was executed by a printmaker in the immediate circle of that artist. Leoni’s engravings are fine examples of this type of artistic social interaction. (See also RCIN 670002, 670003, 670011, 670012.)

    Text adapted from Portrait of the Artist, London, 2016

    From the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-22 October 1657); inherited by his brother, Carlo Antonio dal Pozzo (1606-1689); sold by Carlo Antonio’s grandson to Clement XI, 1703; acquired by Cardinal Alessandro Albani by 1714, from whom the collection was purchased by George III in 1762.

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